I am going to cheat a little today. It is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States.
For my entire life, Thanksgiving has meant one thing. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. On the fourth Thursday of November, I always wake with two things on my mind: turkey and parade floats.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the balloons! My favorite balloons have always been Snoopy and Garfield. Seeing Santa on the final float for me has always been the opening of the Christmas season.
Originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, it has been a Thanksgiving tradition since 1927. That was the year that the parade switched from live zoo animals to balloons. It is as much a tradition as overeating pie and watching football (there are two different pro games on today).
From 1927 – 1933, the balloons were released at the end of the parade with return tags attached to them.
In 1927, after they released the balloons, they all exploded unexpectedly due to pressure so new pressure relief valves were installed.
The parade by the numbers:
- The parade route is 2.6 miles – 4.1km – 7000 steps
- 3.5 million people line the parade route
- 2500+ NYPD officers protect the route
- 2015 marks the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade
- Retailers started planing for the 90th parade in October of 2015
- The balloons must fit in a box no bigger than 12.5 ft high and 8 ft wide – they need to fit through the Lincoln Tunnel toll booth
- 26 floats
- 40 different balloons
- 40 lbs of sand hold the balloons down
- Balloons take about 90 minutes each to inflate
- There are 12 marching bands in the 2015 parade
- There are 10,000 marchers in the parade
- 230 costumers that dress the marchers
- 1100 Cheerleaders and dancers
- 850 clowns meet together to put on makeup
- 50 million viewers watch on TV
- The 2015 parade – Macy’s will honor a 60 year volunteer
- Snoopy is 67ft long, 27ft wide, and 38ft high
- Snoopy holds the record of 39 appearances in the parade
- Sponge Bob has 70 handlers and 16,000 cubic feet of helium
- The parade was canceled during the Second World War
- Santa’s float MUST arrive on time 11:54am to the Macy’s center stage or the world will come to an end!
During the 1997 Thanksgiving Day parade, things changed! The parade happens whether it is snowing, raining, or like today–sunny and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. On November 27, 1997, it was a ”little windy”.
On the morning of November 27th, the wind was a steady 25 mph with gusts to 43 mph.
At times, the balloons were not gliding but instead were careering as their handlers on the ground struggled to keep control in winds that reached as high as 43 miles an hour. For a while, the balloons seemed to be falling like flies.
During the parade, the Barney balloon suffered a life ending stab wound from a lamp post as the handlers struggled to keep him from flying away.
At another location in the parade, the Pink Panther was battling the winds. Eventually a police inspector punched a hole in his tail to help stabilize it.
Joyce Reis, who held one of the panther’s ropes, said she was terrified. ”The balloon was caught on top of me and my daughter,” she said. ”We thought it was going to smother us.” Some of the panthers’ handlers said one of their colleagues was knocked unconscious during the collapse, but the police could not confirm the report.
The worst incident of the day happened as a six-story tall Cat in the Hat balloon crashed into a light pole. The handlers were trying to keep it under control. As the balloon struck the light pole a second time, a large portion of the light came crashing to the ground.
”You thought it was going to bounce off,” he said. ”But the second time it snapped — it was suspended for an instant, then it spiraled way down.”
”The parade just stopped,” he continued. ”There was a prolonged silence. Your thoughts go from happy, joyous Thanksgiving to prayers.”
John Morley of Manhattan, said the falling arm missed him and his 4-year-old daughter Soeurette by about a foot. He said the Cat in the Hat was the second balloon to strike that particular lamppost. When he realized the arm was teetering, he started to push through the crowd with his daughter to escape.
Two people were seriously injured by the falling lamp post piece: Maria Clohessy and Kathy Caronna. Both women were taken to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital with head injuries.
Kathy Caronna spent 24 days in a coma. She later sued the City of New York, Macy’s, and the manufacturer of the lamp post for a combined $400 million dollars.
A Macy’s spokesperson stated that there was a discussion about removing the balloons that day. At the start of the parade, all indications were that the wind was dying down.
Ms. Caronna settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The city and Macy’s have adopted stricter safety guidelines as a result.
The most important change was the size of the balloons. They can now be no bigger than 70 feet tall, 78 feet long, and 40 feet wide. This change alone did away with massive balloons like the Pink Panther.
All extended arm lamp posts have been removed from the parade route. All trees along the route have been trimmed back.
Each balloon now has an 800 pound pilot vehicle, and an 800 pound tail vehicle. There is also a representative of the NYPD as part of the balloon team that has the jurisdiction to remove the balloon from the parade at any time.
New York City and Macy’s want to ensure that everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving, and that Santa arrives on time.